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China Intimidating ASEAN Over South China Sea

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12th-Feb-2020       
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Saleem Samad :
When the world is glued towards China's scary nightmare of the coronavirus epidemic, many have forgotten about China's hegemony on the South China Sea, which threatens global maritime trade and military vessel transportation in the region.
China's recently rebuked Singapore for allegedly stirring up tension over the South China Sea at international forums reflects a pattern of interference in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations - ASEAN's deliberations; this suggests that Beijing is embarked on a hegemonic trajectory in Asia.
ASEAN, which was always responsible for the Southeast Asia portion of the communiqué, was prevented from updating the Southeast Asian situation because China did not want the reference to the ASEAN Summit paragraphs on the South China Sea.
Mushahid Ali, a Senior Fellow with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore deplores criticism of Singapore by Chinese scholars and pundits over South China Sea tensions further underscores a noticeable turning point in China's assertiveness as a rising power.
The scholar understands that they even cited fabricated reports of what Singapore was said to have done at the recent Non-Aligned Summit (NAM) in Venezuela, contrary to the official record of what it stated, and threatened to punish Singapore for it.
Chinese diplomats prevailed on the Host Country and the NAM Chair, Venezuela. The Chinese intervened through their allies and pushed for retaining the old paragraphs of about two years old which seemed to serve China's interests. In so doing China displayed the classic behaviour of a hegemonic power in securing its interest over the objection of regional states.
Chinese leaders talk often about mutual respect, win-win cooperation and equality of states. They do not seem to mean what they utter but expect other countries to follow their wishes.
China dated to the use of proxies to pressure Singapore to subordinate its long-standing relations with the United States, Japan and other ASEAN countries, to what Beijing desires.
China bids to dominate East Asia by asserting its historical rights to the region, insisting on its claims to almost all of the South China Sea and disregarding the legal rights of neighbouring countries based on international law.
It seems China aspires to be a great power that ignores the legal rights of other countries and refuses to subscribe to the established rules of international behaviour, respecting the sovereignty and interests of its neighbours.
It is therefore incongruous that Beijing's media pundits and defence scholars should deem it fit to take Singapore to task for allegedly stirring the pot of South China Sea tensions.
If China wants to be respected as a major power and its views of regional and international affairs given due regard in the current world order, should China not pay equal regard to the views and interests of other Asian powers like Japan, India, and ASEAN, instead of insisting on the untrammelled rights of a rising power that has yet to fulfil the requirements of a superpower in economic and military terms?
China wants Singapore to take into account their interests but they would not accept Singapore's interests in upholding the rule of law and the principle of a rules-based regime for the conduct of inter-state relations and maintaining the freedom of navigation and overflight of the South China Sea.
Singapore and other states of ASEAN have to assert their sovereignty and freedom to maintain a friendly relationship with China and other major powers based on the principles of equality and mutual interest.

(Saleem Samad, an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA) and Hellman-Hammett Award. Twitter @saleemsamad, Email saleemsamad@hotmail.com)

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